Gearing Up for the 2016 Daytona 500

The Great American Race is finally upon us.

After what seemed like forever (although it’s the shortest offseason in sports), NASCAR is back in action this weekend as the world turns to the World Center of Racing, a newly revamped and renovated Daytona International Speedway.

The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s first, and biggest, race of the season – by far. Starting off the season with a bang is how NASCAR has always done it, and the races usually don’t disappoint. Look at Trevor Bayne in 2011, a complete underdog story. Kevin Harvick in 2007 in a photo finish over Mark Martin. Dale Earnhardt in 1998, one of the most popular wins in NASCAR history, or the “Dale and Dale Show” as Dale Jarrett won it in 1993 with his father on the call in the broadcast booth, in tears. The legends, memories, and history surrounding this race are endless, and another chapter will be written this Sunday afternoon.

“Daytona Rising” has been an overpowering storyline for the past couple years, as Daytona International Speedway has spent more than $400 million to renovate their facility into the first-ever “motorsports stadium,” as track president Joie Chitwood III calls it.

Forty new escalators, 1,400 television screens, 101,500 new seats, and that’s only to get you started. Add enough fiber optic cable to stretch across the continental United States, new “injectors” as entrances and a completely revamped idea of what we consider a track, as it is now being called a “stadium” by DIS officials.

The new track is great in and of itself, but what really matters for most fans at the track, and watching on television worldwide, is the quality of racing, and the winner.

Important Information:

The 58th running of the Great American Race will take place on Sunday, February 21, 2016, at 1:00 pm. Twenty-year old Chase Elliott will lead the field to the green flag after winning the pole last weekend. Matt Kenseth was prepared to roll off second, but a crash on the final lap of the second duel forced him to go to a backup car, and he will start at the rear of the field. The rest of the lineup has been determined by the finishes of the Cam-Am Duel races, won by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch. Due to Kenseth’s misfortune, Busch will roll off second and Junior will start third.

New Faces in New Places:

Silly Season has come and gone, and a lot of drivers have done some shuffling. Most notably, Chase Elliott is in the No. 24 car, taking over for Jeff Gordon. Ryan Blaney is in the No. 21 car full-time for the Wood Brothers. Chris Buescher is in the No. 34, Brian Scott is in the No. 44, and Clint Bowyer is still in the No. 15 car, but with a new team (HScott Motorsports).

Where do I watch?

The race will be televised live on FOX, beginning at 1:00, and MRN radio.

Who are the favorites and who are the dark horses?

The overwhelming favorite would have to be Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won two of the four restrictor plate races last season (one at Daytona in July) and is the king of plate racing in this era. Joey Logano, the defending champion of the race, as well as defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch are also among the favorites due to their pedigree. 2007 winner Kevin Harvick, two-time winner Matt Kenseth, and his JGR teammate Denny Hamlin have all been fast throughout Speedweeks, and they all should have something to say before this race ends.

Since it’s Daytona, it’s always a crapshoot. You never really know who is going to end up in victory lane, so a “dark horse” isn’t really a “dark horse”. With that being said, drivers such as AJ Allmendinger, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Danica Patrick, and Kyle Larson, who have experience in this race and on restrictor plate tracks, could challenge for the win on Sunday as well.

Prediction:

When I say that you have a one-in-40 chance of picking the correct winner, I truly mean that.  Racing at Daytona and Talladega means that anybody who qualifies for the race has a shot at winning. It’s all about putting yourself in the correct position when the time comes for you to make that one move, that one pass, that one partner drafting behind you, that could change your life forever. With that being said, I think that the winner of the 2016 Daytona 500 will come from the dominant organization for most of 2015, Joe Gibbs Racing, and it will be Carl Edwards. I think the first backflip in Daytona history will be performed at the start/finish line, and Cousin Carl will get another win in a big race, and win his first career Daytona 500.

Once again, the race will be broadcast on FOX this Sunday at 1:00 pm. Happy race season!